The island of Madagascar, situated off the east coast of Africa, was hit by Cyclone Giovanna overnight on Feb.13 with high winds of up to 195km causing damage to buildings. So far five people have died but the death toll is expected to rise.
The island of Madagascar is no stranger to cyclones with the worst one happening in 1994. That storm killed 200 and made four thousand people homeless.
According to the BBC, Cyclone Giovanna made landfall in the middle of the night near the eastern city of Toamasina, situated around 200 kilometres from the island's capital, Antananarivo. BBC reporter Tim Healy is based in the capital and he said that on Feb. 14 the capital "experienced very high winds and heavy rainfall for most of the day." Schools and businesses were closed and power lines were down across the island. Mr Healy told the BBC that as many of the island's residents live along the coast line in very simple houses made of wood and leaves, it is likely that the damage will be very bad and the loss of life far higher than so far reported.
News24 reports that the authorities had issued an alert of the approaching storm to the islanders but as communication in some areas is very primitive, literally with a messenger ringing a bell and shouting the message through the streets, many people had not understood the seriousness of the situation. The report says that the storm began at around 1 a.m. local time.
UNICEF issued a press release on Feb 14 saying that they were getting a relief operation underway with water and sanitation assistance a priority. An aerial assessment of the situation is planned as soon as possible. The charity's press release says:
"The category 4 cyclone made landfall at 1 a.m. about 100 kilometres South of the city of Tamatave, which is also known as Taomasina, in Brickaville district. It then moved across the island in a southwesterly direction where it lost strength in the highlands and was downgraded to a tropical storm. The capital Antananarivo nevertheless saw relatively strong winds and heavy rains."
Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island, according to the BBC whose website says:
"Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth."
Due to its exposed position it is frequently hit by cyclones and tropical storms, with the most recent large ones being in 2000 and 2004. This current cyclone has weakened as it crossed the island and is expected to continue on to Mozambique. However, further damage could occur as storm surges hit the island's coastal regions. It will be some days before the full extent of the damage and the death toll will be known.